On Friday, I wrote an item ("The 3-Word Phrase That Signals Obama's Intentions on Taxes") about how a number of Democrats on the Hill were relieved to hear President Obama say, in his recent budget speech, that it was necessary to raise taxes on "millionaires and billionaires"--relieved because many of them worried he had drifted too far to the right, and might no longer be committed to tax increases on the wealthy as a way to trim the national debt. Hearing Obama invoke "millionaires and billionaires" was understood by these Democrats to be a signal (or a dog-whistle, if you prefer) that he wasn't backing down: polls show that the public is most receptive to raising taxes when the issue is framed this way, so Obama was signaling that he means business. That doesn't guarantee he'll follow through; he used the phrase plenty last year, and still signed a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans (which he'd opposed) and everyone else (which he'd supported). But it's a clear sign of where he stands today. And the phrase, along with all the apprehension surrounding it, provides an interesting glimpse at the tensions between Democrats over raising taxes.
Judging from the comments and emails that piled up over the weekend, most people didn't read the item that way. In fact, I can draw two conclusions: First, a lot of people spent Easter weekend in a spirit other than that of Christian fellowship and goodwill toward men. Second, a lot of them seem to think that they're the ones being persecuted, that by seeking to increase taxes on the wealthy Obama is engaging in--gasp!--"class warfare." I've always loved that phrase because it's such potent hyperbole, the product of expensive focus grouping and crafty political wordsmithery as surely as is the phrase "millionaires and billionaires," except "class warfare" has that extra dimension of apocalyptic consequence and the undertone of victimization that work so well together even though they shouldn't, like sweet-and-sour soup.
But I gather few others share my connoisseur's appreciation. Most of my correspondents appear to take the phrase literally and believe they are being unfairly and maliciously attacked. I'd guess that by and large they're not millionaires or billionaires themselves. Instead, most display the same anguished indignation that got University of Chicago professor Todd Henderson into such trouble after he worked himself into a lather about how unfair it was that he--a mere university professor scraping by on an income of several hundred thousand dollars a year--might be expected to chip in a bit more. Here's a representative example from my in box:
As a journalist, why don't you ask the obvious question about what makes a married couple earning $250,000 per year a millionaire or a billionaire?
Is it that political demagoguery from a Democrat is more palatable than from a Republican?
Obama is being cynical and dishonest and the mainstream political press is his willing accomplice.
This sort of thinking always makes me want to haul out my fainting couch. Because crying "demagoguery" and "class warfare," and really meaning it, is just silly.
Politics is and always has been a competition between different classes and interest groups for finite government resources. Everybody harnesses their best argument for growing or defending their slice of the pie, whether it's "millionaires and billionaires" or "welfare queens." And it's worth noting that millionaires and billionaires have fared particularly well relative to other groups. According to the IRS, the average federal income tax rate for the richest Americans dropped from 26 percent in 1992 to 17 percent in 2007, the most recent data available. So if you're inclined to think in terms of "warfare," which I'm not, it's clear who's been winning the war.
To address the question above, married couples who make $250,000 a year or more--the line at which Obama would raise taxes--are not millionaires or billionaires. (I'm no math whiz, but I'd have thought this obvious.) By any reasonable definition, though, they're still rich: income-wise, they rank in the top 2.5 percent of American households. Maybe it's residual Easter spirit, but I suppose that, if pressed, I could muster a smidgen more sympathy for the Todd Hendersons of the world than for the yacht owners and mansion-dwellers. But they're still far better off than most people, so it's hard to feel bad for them.
Here's the other thing: While the type of people writing in reflexively view any prospective increase in their tax rates as "class warfare," they don't apply that label to other attempts to reapportion resources--even radical ones, like Paul Ryan's budget, which is now the official position of House Republicans. If Obama's desire to nudge up tax rates on the wealthy is class warfare against the rich, then surely Paul Ryan's plan to shift the burden of growing healthcare costs from government to citizens by privatizing Medicare and block-granting Medicaid is class warfare against the poor and middle class. Strange that none of my correspondents pointed this out!
But as I said, I think the whole thing is silly. Let's stop hyperventilating about "class warfare" and call it by its proper name: politics.
Meet the Bernie Sanders supporters who say they won’t switch allegiances, no matter what happens in the general election.
Loyal fans of Bernie Sanders have a difficult decision to make. If Hillary Clinton faces off against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, legions of Sanders supporters will have to decide whether to switch allegiances or stand by Bernie until the bitter end.
At least some supporters of the Vermont senator insist they won’t vote for Clinton, no matter what. Many view the former secretary of state with her deep ties to the Democratic establishment as the polar opposite of Sanders and his rallying cry of political revolution. Throwing their weight behind her White House bid would feel like a betrayal of everything they believe.
These voters express unwavering dedication to Sanders on social media, deploying hashtags like NeverClinton and NeverHillary, and circulating petitions like www.wontvotehillary.com, which asks visitors to promise “under no circumstances will I vote for Hillary Clinton.” It’s garnered more than 56,500 signatures so far. Many feel alienated by the Democratic Party. They may want unity, but not if it means a stamp of approval for a political status quo they believe is fundamentally flawed and needs to be fixed.
There’s no escaping the pressure that U.S. inequality exerts on parents to make sure their kids succeed.
More than a half-century ago, Betty Friedan set out to call attention to “the problem that has no name,” by which she meant the dissatisfaction of millions of American housewives.
Today, many are suffering from another problem that has no name, and it’s manifested in the bleak financial situations of millions of middle-class—and even upper-middle-class—American households.
Poverty doesn’t describe the situation of middle-class Americans, who by definition earn decent incomes and live in relative material comfort. Yet they are in financial distress. For people earning between $40,000 and $100,000 (i.e. not the very poorest), 44 percent said they could not come up with $400 in an emergency (either with cash or with a credit card whose bill they could pay off within a month). Even more astonishing, 27 percent of those making more than $100,000 also could not. This is not poverty. So what is it?
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
The candidate has exposed the tension between democracy and liberal values—just like the Arab Spring did.
When I was living in the Middle East, politics always felt existential, in a way that I suppose I could never fully understand. After all, I could always leave (as my relatives in Egypt were fond of reminding me). But it was easy enough to sense it. Here, in the era of Arab revolt, elections really had consequences. Politics wasn’t about policy; it was about a battle over the very meaning and purpose of the nation-state. These were the things that mattered more than anything else, in part because they were impossible to measure or quantify.
The primary divide in most Arab countries was between Islamists and non-Islamists. The latter, especially those of a more secular bent, feared that Islamist rule, however “democratic” it might be, would alter the nature of their countries beyond recognition. It wouldn’t just affect their governments or their laws, but how they lived, what they wore, and how they raised their sons and daughters.
Boosting your ego won’t make you feel better. Instead, try talking to yourself like you would your best friend.
In 1986, California state assemblyman John Vasconcellos came up with what he believed could be “a vaccine for major social ills” like teen pregnancy and drug abuse: a special task-force to promote self-esteem among Californians. The effort folded three years later, and was widely considered not to have accomplished much.
To Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, that’s not surprising. Though self-esteem continues to reverberate as a pop-psych cure-all, the quest for inflated egos, in her view, is misguided and largely pointless.
There’s nothing wrong with being confident, to answer Demi Lovato’s question. The trouble is how we try to achieve high self-regard. Often, it’s by undermining others or comparing our achievements to those around us. That’s not just unsustainable, Neff argues, it can also lead to narcissism or depressive bouts during hard times.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
If pushed, most people would say, “It’s discriminatory.” That’s the answer my Con Law students often give about various hypothetical statutes. They’re always correct, and always wrong, because all laws are “discriminatory.” Driver’s-license laws and drinking laws discriminate on the basis of age, for example. Immigration law discriminates on the basis of birthplace and citizenship. Tax laws discriminate on residence, income level, home ownership, and occupation.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
A long love letter to the creator of the world’s greatest nature documentaries, on the eve of his 90th birthday.
This Sunday, Sir David Attenborough, naturalist, maker of wildlife documentaries, snuggler of gorillas, wielder of That Voice, keeper of the blue shirt, and Most Trusted Man in Britain, turns 90. To mark the occasion, and celebrate his unbeatable oeuvre, I re-watched all 79 episodes of his Life Collection, and ranked them from worst to best—or, really, from least great to greatest.
Recent series like Blue Planet, Planet Earth, and Life are not represented here. Although many bill them as “Attenborough shows,” he only narrated them (and was over-dubbed by movie stars in the US). No, this list focuses on the big series that he himself wrote and presented, the ones that are most marbled with his influence, the ones that feature his beaming face along with his velvet voice. There are nine, starting with Life on Earth in 1979 and going up to Life in Cold Blood in 2008.